TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Topeka City Council voted Tuesday night to approve an ordinance that bans homeless camps from setting up within 500 feet of a public trail and 50 feet from a sidewalk. However, one resident raised concerns that the provision doesn’t go far enough to address the city’s homeless issue.
Following the council meeting, Topeka resident Nick Xidis recounted a visit downtown with his granddaughter, which took an unexpected turn.
“The event that I recounted was taking my granddaughter to Evergy Plaza to play in the water fountain and things,” Xidis told 27 News. “She’s six years old, that’s what a six-year-old should be doing. She was disturbed and took my hand as we were walking and said ‘Grandpa, the last time we were here there was a woman bathing her privates.’”
Xidis is calling on the council to consider second-offense violations of a minimum of 100 dollars and or a five-day imprisonment for those who don’t follow the rules.
In an interview with 27 News Wednesday morning, City Council member Karen Hiller said that there’s, “a lot more to do,” to address the homeless issue. However, she said there’s other factors that need to be considered before taking steps on future restrictions.
“Part of the reason we’re where we are is because the folks don’t have any money, so to pay a fine is difficult… but, people don’t want to put them in jail, if somebody’s got mental health or behavioral issues…what do we do?” Hiller said. “The county is addressing that as well and they are part of this team that is looking at this whole community wide ‘what is the problem and what are our solutions’… the reason there was some talk of a low-barrier shelter is because… if we don’t want to do jail, what can we do?”
“Just throwing a bunch of people, who aren’t at a good time in their lives all in one place doesn’t work either,” Hiller continued.
Hiller also weighed in on the search for a new city manager to permanently fill former City Manager Stephen Wade’s position. She said the firm contracted to fill the position is confident that they can move forward quickly.
“We have engaged a consultant at this point… they’ve got a really great questionnaire for the council members to fill in, so that he can compile that… so that he can work with us on that hiring process [and] has a good picture of what we’re looking for,” Hiller said.
“This particular company keeps in touch with as many as 500 people at any given point,” she explained. “So once they’re clear on what you’re looking for and the circumstances of that community, they’re confident that they can bring somebody in pretty fast.”
The city will also be closing a deal on Hotel Topeka soon.
The hotel was in receivership because the purchase needed to be approved by the court, according to a press release from the City of Topeka last month. A tentative closing date is scheduled for Oct. 31, according to the press release.
“The city… is in the final stages of a contract with… someone to manage the property itself… as well as an asset management company,” Hiller said.
“There also was a meeting with the county. This hotel doesn’t stand alone. We just had taxpayers invest over $50 million in updating the Expocentre [Stormont Vail Events Center], so we want to make sure that all those events and conferences, and so on, continue… and that people have confidence to book them, which is why we bought the hotel and we’re hanging onto it,” Hiller said.
The city’s also working on upgrading parts of the hotel.
“The other piece of that is the Maner Conference Center, which needs some upgrading…which uses the catering service from the hotel for the events that are down there, so there’s been a walkthrough and meeting with the county within the last week as well.”
To watch the full interview, click here.